Virgin Australia has found itself in the center of a PR storm after comments by chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka about the need to re-open borders sparked a trending Twitter backlash.
Hrdlicka caused a furor with comments about the need for Australians to live with a level of COVID transmission for “the country’s health and economic recovery” and her observation some people may die.
The remarks, which received widespread media coverage, were described as “somewhat insensitive” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and sparked a backlash on Twitter with a #boycottVirgin campaign trending on the social media platform.
Hrdlicka was essentially stating what everyone knows — Australia will eventually have to re-open to the rest of the world.
The question is not whether this will be done but how and when it will be done and, for now, the Australian public is in the dark about the nature and timing of that plan.
While the Virgin boss is not the first person to make this point, the comment about people dying was widely seen as a blunder.
Not helping was the fact she is the Australian face of a US private equity firm keen to get a return on its investment and seen as rapacious in some quarters.
Morrison noted during a doorstop in the Queensland town of Caboolture on Tuesday that 910 Australians had lost their lives.
“Every single one of those lives was a terrible tragedy, and it doesn’t matter how old they were,’’ he said.
“Some were younger, some were older. They were someone’s mum, someone’s dad, someone’s aunty, someone’s cousin, brother, sister, friend.
“Nine hundred and ten, all felt extremely consciously by those loved ones around them. And so, no, I find it very difficult to have any truck with what was said there.”
The Twitterati were blunter, many asking what the airline would consider an acceptable number of deaths to boost its business and accusing it of putting profits ahead of people.
A number said they were previously Virgin customers but would not fly with the airline again.
Virgin, which says the remarks are being taken out of context, attempted to counter the flood of criticism.
“The safety of our guests has always been our number one priority – nothing will change that,’’ it tweeted.
“We have worked in lock-step with State and Federal governments to put the health and safety of Australians first, and we’ll keep doing that as we learn to live with COVID-19.”